Garfield Farm founder left legacy of conservation in Kane County
In 41 years, the Garfield Farm and Inn Museum in Campton Hills expanded from 163 acres to 375 acres under the leadership of founder Martin Johnson, who died Sept. 11 at 95.
Johnson and his late wife, Evelyn, a volunteer historic preservationist, established and preserved Illinois' only intact 1840s prairie farmstead and inn as a living history museum.
The couple established two nonprofits -- the Garfield Heritage Society managing the museum's operations and tours, and the Campton Historic Agricultural Lands, which owns the bulk of the property and is responsible for the restoration of buildings.
Initially, Johnson contributed significant money to the museum's preservation. He served on the museum board from its inception in 1977 until he was no longer able to attend meetings. He was named an emeritus board member in June, said his son Jerome Johnson of Campton Hills, one of the founding board members of Campton Historic Agricultural Lands.
"The significant thing that he did over time, especially in the early days (when) there was a dire need for economic support, he was always willing to participate to his best ability," Jerome Johnson said. "My father was willing to step in where he could both as a volunteer and helping to cover costs."
The museum's restoration and preservation are funded primarily through donations and public/private grants. Of the 27 structures on the site, 18 are historical buildings that once belonged to the farmsteads of father and son Timothy Garfield and Edward Garfield.
A lifelong Campton Hills resident, Johnson developed a love for the land and accrued a wealth of local historical knowledge.
"He was a delightful man to talk with about Campton Township's history," said Barbara Wojnicki, a longtime Kane County Board member who had known Johnson for 25 years. "He was very energized and supportive of our efforts to present a Campton Township Open Space Program to the community."
Johnson supported the township's requests by referendum in 2001 and 2005 seeking voter approval to purchase open land. In 2007, he sold a conservation easement for his Campton Hills property to Campton Township, allowing it to establish Harley Woods Open Space.
Garfield Farm's preservation is a huge part of open space conservation in the county. In the early 2000s, Johnson requested the Kane County Board's support for the farm and was granted $500,000 to purchase more land, Wojnicki said.
A 1940 graduate of Elburn High School, Johnson enlisted in the military in 1942 and was called to active duty in January 1944. He served in the Army Signal Corps and worked on the development of radar, but he never saw combat. He was discharged in May 1946.
Johnson worked for Furnas Electric in Batavia for 42 years before retiring in 1988 as the company's vice president of finance. In his later years, he welcomed visitors to the museum. He and Eve helped establish the first Cub Scout Pack 150 in Wasco.
Johnson is survived by his daughter Ceil Johnson and son Jerome Johnson.
To honor Johnson's life and legacy, preservationists, friends and family members will gather from 1 to 4 p.m. Oct. 21 at the museum on Garfield Road, north of Route 38. A fund in Johnson's name is being established for the museum. Donations can be made to Garfield Farm Museum, Box 403, La Fox, IL 60147.